Love: Evelyn Underhill

​For the sake of time, we move from the eighteenth century (last week in the post about the Wesleys) to the twentieth century, continuing our look at love through another Anglican, Evelyn Underhill.  In her writing, we easily detect the centrality of love in Christianity’s essence and expression.

In its essence, she wrote that the spiritual life is “the willed correspondence of the little human spirit with the Infinite Spirit”—correspondence between the Holy Spirit whose nature is love and the human spirit made in God’s image. [1]  Indeed, for Underhill,  the spiritual journey corresponds to the drawing of iron filings to a magnet—natural and inevitable because of Love, akin to the sentiment of St. John, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

John’s declaration leads into Underhill’s belief that the core expression of the spiritual life is the showing of love.  Put first by Paul in his list of the fruit of the Spirit, she noted that “live is the budding point from which all the rest come.”  She summed everything up in one sentence, “To be unloving is to be out of touch with God.” [3]

As a Christian in the mystical tradition, Underhill clearly understood the life of love to be a journey into increasing maturity, which is essentially maturation in love.  Her classic book, ‘Mysticism’ has over 850 references to love.  Growth in love is occurring in every stage of our spiritual formation: purgation, illumination, dark night, and union. [4]

In a very compelling way. Evelyn Underhill invites us into a dynamic spirituality rooted and fruited in love.

[1] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Spiritual Life’ (Harper & Row, n.d.), 30.

[2] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Fruits of the Spirit’ (Morehouse-Barlow, 1981), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15. 

[4] Evelyn Underhill, ‘Mysticism’ (1911).  Her book has been republished many times, and it is still available in both traditional and ebook formats.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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